This week (August 11, 2010), President Obama announced more help for homeowners struggling with the long-term financial effects of the Great Recession.

With foreclosures rising 4 percent, according to the latest RealtyTrac survey, the Federal Reserve is talking about how the economy is poised between a (very) moderate recovery and falling off a cliff, and tens of thousands of Americans joining the 99ers (those out of work for more than 99 weeks, who cannot qualify for any unemployment benefit) each week, it finally occurred to someone that it might be a smart idea to further help unemployed homeowners.

Each week on my radio show, I hear from homeowners who are unemployed and facing ever-desperate times. The recovery is non-existent for them. Jobs that pay anything above minimum wage are hard, if not impossible, to find – and even minimum wage jobs aren’t in abundance.

Mortgages that were made on white collar salaries or blue collar overtime pay can’t begin to be paid with an $8 per hour job.

And so millions of folks who are underwater with their mortgages are finding they have to choose between paying the mortgage and putting food on the table or medicine in their cabinet or school books in their kids’ lockers.

Against this backdrop, the Obama administration announced that through the existing Housing Finance Agency (HFA) Innovation Fund for the Hardest Hit Housing Markets (also known as the Hardest Hit Fund), the U.S. Department of the Treasury will make $2 billion of additional assistance available for HFA programs for homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments due to unemployment.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to launch a complementary $1 billion Emergency Homeowners Loan Program to provide assistance – for up to 24 months – to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure and have experienced a substantial reduction in income due to involuntary unemployment, underemployment, or a medical condition.

“We remain committed to helping struggling homeowners, and this program will provide additional assistance to states hit hardest by unemployment,” said Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison in a press release announcing the programs. “This is part of the Administration’s comprehensive housing policy that has helped to stabilize a fragile housing market and allows responsible homeowners the chance to reduce their monthly mortgage payments to affordable levels.”

“HUD’s new Emergency Homeowner Loan Program will build on Treasury’s Hardest Hit initiative by targeting assistance to struggling unemployed homeowners in other hard hit areas to help them avoid preventable foreclosures,” said Bill Apgar, HUD Senior Advisor for Mortgage Finance. “Together, these initiatives represent a combined $3 billion investment that will ultimately impact a broad group of struggling borrowers across the country and in doing so further contribute to the Administration’s efforts to stabilize housing markets and communities across the country.”

This new program will complement Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund by providing assistance to homeowners in hard hit local areas that may not be included in the hardest hit target states. On a conference call, HUD indicated that those locations are still being determined.

The program will work through a variety of state and non-profit entities and will offer a declining balance, deferred payment “bridge loan” (zero percent interest, non-recourse, subordinate loan) for up to $50,000 to assist eligible borrowers with payments on their mortgage principal, interest, mortgage insurance, taxes and hazard insurance for up to 24 months.

To be eligible, homeowners must be at least three months delinquent in their payments and have a reasonable likelihood of being able to resume repayment of their mortgage payments and related housing expenses within two years. Homeowners must also have a mortgage property that is the principal residence of the borrower, and eligible borrowers may not own a second home.

Finally, homeowners must be able to demonstrate that they had a good payment record prior to the event (like a job loss or medical problem, etc.) that produced the reduction of income.

HUD will announce additional details, including the targeted communities and other program specifics when the program is officially launched in the coming weeks.

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